Friday, February 1, 2013

Korea: DMZ and the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom

Recently, I (T) had the opportunity to accompany some folks up to the Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom, an area carved out of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas during the Korean War for the UN/South Korea side to discuss the terms of the Armistice with the North Korean/Chinese side.  Since the end of the war, it has been used to discuss issues related to the Armistice and occasionally direct talks between the North and South.  Also called the "Truce Village," it is known for being, among other things, the site of prisoner repatriations in 1953, the return of the USS Pueblo captives in 1968, the infamous axe murders of two US Army officers in 1976, a firefight over a Soviet defector in 1984, and a Chinese military officer defector in 1989.  For a more comprehensive look at the JSA and its history, check out the wikipedia site:

This was my third trip to the JSA, but the first in over 10 years, so there were things that had changed and things that had not changed so much.  The drive up, for example, clearly illustrated the growth South Korea continues to experience.  The former two-lane road up to Freedom Bridge is now four lanes, as is the bridge itself, and the roadsides are marked by modern buildings, apartment complexes, and new construction stretching northward from the suburbs of Seoul.  There are also new buildings at the JSA, and the US military presence at the JSA has decreased significantly, replaced by South Koreans.  What has not changed is the atmosphere.  Despite the increased numbers of tourists visiting the JSA, and the much larger visitor center with its equally large gift shop, a strong sense of the Cold War and lingering hostilities still reign.  From the constant presence of armed South Korean and US soldiers hovering around my little delegation to the "In Front of Them All!" slogans plastered on the walls, one could only come away with a sense that it was about 1985.  The snow on the ground, the bitter cold, and the gray sky that day only punctuated the psychological environment.  So, sit back and take a quick trip back in time.

Freedom Bridge.
Over a frozen Imjin River.
Camp Bonifas, home of the JSA Security Battalion.
"In Front of Them All!"

  Some photos from the standard JSA briefing given to visitors just to help orient you.

"TSD" is Daesong-dong village, a unique South Korean community within the DMZ, the only such arrangement in South Korea. Villagers receive perks including larger land plots and tax breaks for living in such close proximity to the North.  Its North Korean counterpart is the Gijung-dong or Propaganda Village located directly across the Military Demarcation Line.  It is known as the Propaganda Village because as no one appears to live there, and many of the buildings have facades.  "MSR" is main supply route, or the highway from Camp Bonifas to the JSA.
The Military Demarcation Line (MDL) divides the JSA and extends all the way across the Peninsula.

The Military Armistice Committee (MAC) buildings, where meetings between the two sides take place.  South Korean guards stand in their ready stance in case there is trouble from the North Korean side.  The building in the background is North Korean.
Our US JSA guide, a squared-away young PFC.  The square two-story building on the hill behind him is a North Korean guard post.
A lone North Korean guard.  A minute or two after I took his photo, he took out his binoculars to check us out.
Inside one of the MAC buildings.  The photo is taken from the North Korean side of the MDL, which divides the room evenly.  Often, North Korean guards will walk up and look in the windows to check out the visitors.  Alas, we were ignored this day.  I guess we were not important enough for that or it was simply too cold for the guards to come out and bother with us.
 Visitors are also taken on a short drive to a UN guard post where they can see The Bridge of No Return (where POWs exchanged in 1953 and the 82 USS Pueblo prisoners were returned in 1968), Propaganda Village, and the hills and mountains of North Korea beyond.

In the center is the Bridge of No Return.  The tall tower faintly visible to the left  is a North Korean flag flying over Propaganda Village.  Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with the camera that day.
On a good day, here is what it looks like.  Yes, that flag is huge.
In 1976, North Korean guards armed with axes attacked a US/UN work party attempting to prune a tree obscuring the view between two UN guard posts.  Two US officers were killed and several more in the party were wounded.

Famous photograph taken of a rather infamous incident.
Site of the tree today.
The Bridge of No Return.
 That's it from the time capsule, but I will leave you with two final photos.

Southern side of Freedom Bridge.
And some North Korean-produced (and not very tasty) wine from the JSA gift shop.

1 comment:

  1. I am learning so much from your posts. Thank you Heather.